Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mustafa Sa'eed and/or/is the Main Character

The narrator in Season of Migration to the North is a rather muted character, with a weak identity, especially next to the enigmatic, possibly sociopathic, Mustafa Sa’eed. As a person, the narrator seems to have no strong goals or convictions for most of his life; we don’t even get his name. It seems that even in his own life, he was looking at Mustafa as the main character, himslef a flat background character. The narrator goes to college in England for a number of years, but comes back with an impractical degree that he never really does anything with other than get an education-related government post. When he returns home, he quickly becomes engulfed in the mysterious Mustafa, convincing him to provide a life story. When Mustafa dies (probably), the narrator becomes the guardian of his sons and is left with all Mustafa’s possessions, as well as a burgeoning crush on his wife, Hosna. Throughout the years, the weight of Mustafa’s life begins to weigh on the narrator’s sense of self. Combined with his growing detachment for his home village and affinity for English customs, it was becoming all too easy for him to jump into Mustafa's shoes. (Which we are later lead to suspect is just what the dearly departed intended). By the end of the book, he has begun to blur the line between “I” and the memories of Mustafa’s life that he has been gathering. If he had survived the end of the book without his moment of realization, I think he very well may have slipped into Mustafa’s life to an unsettling degree.


  1. I think you hit upon several interesting points about the effects of Western culture on Africa. The narrator follows Mustafa's path because of a shared experience, and one could argue that the paths would be the same even if the two had never met. The narrator's journey to England and back affected him as it would affect anyone, as Salih explores. The fact that Mustafa provides a template is almost irrelevant. The parallels between the two are necessary to draw upon a larger thematic issue of Western imperialism destroying the "other." However, the colonialist tendencies of the West are much more insidious, as they don't completely assimilate the population, but create a hybrid that is an other to both worlds, and to himself. Both Mustafa and the narrator don't fit into either the West or their Sudanese homes, because they have been transformed, but only partially, from themselves. The suicide of Mustafa explores his otherness, even to himself. He is unable to live in the West because of his crimes, but doesn't mesh with the people of Wad Hamid because of his outsider status. As the narrator decides to live at the end of the novel, he has become a master of both worlds, having returned from the unknown to his place of comfort having changed. Mustafa is meant to be a mirror of the narrator, in order to show the reaching effects of Western imperialism.

  2. I think what's really interesting about the narrator is that he goes from being more of a background character to becoming the main character. As you said, he starts out with no real convictions and basically leads his life without making any true life-decisions. This is especially interesting because as the narrator, one would think he'd act as either the third person story teller or the main character. Instead, he kind of does both. By the end of the book, the narrator is the main character, which further asserts the idea of him and Mustafa living parallel lives because Mustafa had been the main character previously. I really like how you connected this to the outsider-within idea because it could otherwise be easy to miss. The end scene where the narrator is choosing between the two shores of either Sudan or westward really emphasizes this in that he literally exists in between the two. I suppose looking at it from this aspect, it would seem that Mustafa could only exist outside of both cultures (this is if we assume he died in the same waters the narrator struggles in). In this way, the narrator is making not only the conscious decision to live, but also to stay with his own culture and no longer fight it.

  3. Excellent point! The narrator ends up serving as almost a frame story to tell the tale of Mustafa, but, as Sophia points out, it is in the novel that he chooses to be the main character in his own life by not following the narrative trajectory of Mustafa.